Returning to work; managing anxiety and re-establishing routine.

02 JUL 2020

If you are feeling anxious about going back to work after isolation, you are not alone. The concept of reverse culture shock could offer an explanation as to why.

At the beginning of the pandemic, we had to quickly adjust to restrictions requiring us to stay at home and limit physical contact with others. Anxiety around these changes was evident in the number of people accessing help-seeking services and increased reports of depression and anxiety. Similarly, as restrictions ease and we return to work and social life, people may be feeling a range of overwhelming emotions. Psychologists call this ‘reverse culture shock’. It’s the feeling people can have when returning from overseas or taking an extended break such as maternity leave and is characterised by a cycle of adjustment. We offer some tips on making the adjustment cycle easier in returning to work and re-establishing a routine. 

When returning to work you may be excited to see colleagues, grab a coffee from your favourite café or see an end to Zoom meetings. However, the realisation that things are not as they were can be jarring. You may also find that you had become accustomed to a slower pace of life or that you enjoyed having time for a walk in the morning while working from home.

Listed below are some things that may help you ease back into post-COVID life and keep up some of the lifestyle changes made during isolation:

Re-establishing Routine

  • Plan ahead to gain control – establish how you will get to and from work and how much time you will need to allow for this
  • Finalise family arrangements such as childcare or pick-ups and drop-offs
  • Readjust your bedtime in anticipation of returning to work
  • Allow yourself time to adjust to your changed routine
  • Schedule time to keep new positive habits a part of your routine
  • Add reminders to your phone if you find you are forgetting tasks
  • Gradually re-engage with activities outside of work

In the Workplace

  • Make sure you are aware of your organisations’ COVID plan, which should detail cleaning, physical distancing and personal hygiene requirements
  • Share your experience with colleagues
  • Discuss options to retain some working from home days with your organisation if practical
  • Prioritise your tasks and complete what you can during your work hours
  • Stick to your work hours, limit overtime
  • Take regular breaks

Staying Mentally Healthy

  • Prioritise self-care
  • Maintain positive habits you may have adopted during isolation like walking, reading, cooking or doing jigsaw puzzles
  • Practice self-soothing techniques such as paced breathing (in for four seconds, hold for seven, out for eight)
  • Recognise and accept how you feel about returning to certain situations  
  • Take things one day at a time – try not to think too far ahead
  • Try not to compare yourself to others

Utilising some of these strategies may help you reintegrate back into the work environment and reduce some of the impacts of reverse culture shock.

Remember each person’s experience is unique. If you find yourself struggling with returning to work or to life post-COVID please contact the following services.

Lifeline 13 11 14

Beyond Blue Support Service is available via phone 24/7 on 1300 22 4636 and via the website for online web chat.

Further information can be found here:

Six ways to manage wellbeing when returning to the workplace after COVID-19.
Strategies for transitioning back into the workplace after coronavirus.
Reverse Culture Shock after COVID-19.

Written by Emily Parker

Photo by Francisco Delgado on Unsplash